You know that guy? The one who has the amazing story that makes you wonder how he got there?

Like, “Oh yeah, I’m from Idaho, but now I run my own expedition and tour company in Nepal”.

Yeah, THAT guy.

Turns out, his name is Eli.

Eli runs EK Journeys, which specializes in private and small group expeditions in Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, India, and Myanmar.

Today, he’s going to share that story with us.

When did you start traveling?

Since a boy, I have wanted to travel abroad, but I came from a family where travel meant a road-trip within the States. In my mind, overseas travel was a vast unknown only embarked upon by the elite few who figured out what a passport was and could afford 5* European hotels.

It wasn’t until college that I had my first overseas experience through a study and travel program. That short experience ruined me, and as soon as I graduated I headed straight to Europe for a summer of volunteer work and travel. For the next 10 years, I spent the better portion of each year exploring destinations abroad.

What’s your favorite place to travel?

When I travel, I prefer to avoid the masses and get off-the-beaten-path when possible. I have a penchant for unique destinations where the unexpected and exotic becomes the expected.

I also enjoy traveling with the purpose of experiencing places and cultures far different from what I can experience at home. Even when in popular places, after visiting the tourist sights, I always try to take a local’s tip and dive into the backstreets and find sights that don’t make it into the guidebooks.

Offering up a nearly endless supply of the unique and unexpected, Nepal is a favorite destination. Of course, there’s the stunning beauty of the Himalaya, and amazingly tasty cuisine, but one of the reasons I keep returning to Nepal is for the sweet people and the rich conglomeration of cultures. I have been invited into dirt-floored homes and offered the lion’s share of a simple meal of rice. I have been offered chai tea more times than I can remember. And the perpetually upbeat attitude of the Nepali people is a constant reminder to look on the bright side of life.

Of course, trekking in the Himalaya is lovely but even more lovely is having a hot shower and comfy bed waiting for you at your high-end teahouse at the end of the day! Or maybe a boutique heritage lodge with Himalayan views after a day of culturally rich sightseeing. These little icings on the cake make Nepal a truly delightful place to travel.

What’s your what worst/best travel story? What happened, how did you deal with it? (This could also be a lead-in to the next question).

One of my funniest travel experiences was while traveling in northern Pakistan in 2010. Always trying to be culturally sensitive, I had grown a longer beard than ever before. My naive thinking was this would help me fit in. However, I realized I kept getting sidelong glances on the street and in tea stalls. One day I asked my local friend Mohammed Ali what I was doing wrong that people were obviously talking about me. Mohammed Ali replied, “They are wondering if you are American Taliban. Your beard looks like Taliban beard.”

It turns out that in that region of Pakistan the people are primarily Shia Muslim and wear closer cropped beards. Their Sunni neighbors down south and more-so, the radical Taliban just over the mountains all wear longer beards like mine. I quickly trimmed the beard.

Where did you come up with the idea for EK journeys?

When I first visited Nepal in 2009, I knew absolutely nothing about the country – only that I was going to hike to Everest Base Camp.

After living there nearly a year, having gained an insider’s perspective on Nepal and discovering some amazing lodges and destinations that weren’t on Trip Advisor, I had my epiphany moment:

“I wish someone had shown me all these insider tips the first time I came to Nepal!”

~Eli

With that thought, I realized I could do just that for fellow discerning travelers. I could take them past the drafty guesthouses recommended in the guidebooks, around the hassle of the tourist district, beyond the sights touted by every other travel agency, and take them straight to the most delightful of accommodations, most beautiful of destinations, and most engaging of activities. In short, EK Journeys was born of the desire to take this travel-learned knowledge and craft truly unique and unforgettable experiences for those who don’t want to blunder through a country on their own.

What’s your number one piece of travel advice?

Be flexible! Travel is an opportunity to leave the rigidity of a work schedule at home and open yourself up to a host of new experiences. Some of my most beautiful travel moments have happened when I abandoned my travel plans and seized the offer of an unexpected opportunity.

Sometimes unexpected events such as a union strike or a local festival can disrupt travel plans. Rather than allowing disappointment to ruin your holiday, staying flexible and seeing what unique opportunities the event allows, often opens the door to some of the most memorable of travel experiences.

Let’s say you had planned on visiting the Taj Mahal today when your rickshaw driver unexpectedly invites you to a family wedding. Go to the wedding! The Taj will still be there tomorrow, but you may never again have the opportunity to experience an Indian wedding ceremony.

So get out, go somewhere new, find a destination expert to show that place to you, and stay flexible!

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